Women Teaching Class: Emotional Labor in Brazilian Literacy Classes

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  • Anthropology of Work Review

    Women Teaching Class: Emotional Labor in Brazilian Literacy ClassesLesley Bartlett

    Columbia UniversityIntroduction

    This paper argues that traditional analytic models of work,while useful, overlook defining features of labor by de-emphasizing the cultural meaning of work for participants.Applying a cultural models approach to the case of Braziliannon-governmental (NGO) teachers, the article explains whyemotional labor has become a central feature in teachers'educational work. The teachers of Freirean, popular educationprograms promote conscientization and the revolution ofhierarchical class relations through the enactment of friendshipand egalitarian speech interaction in the classroom. Thisanalytic framework allows us to see more fully the positionalaspects of labor in relation to social structures of gender, race,and class; it ensures the representation of cultural as well aseconomic perspectives; and it permits a more groundedexplanation of social change.

    To expound upon this argument, I first outline the conceptof cultural models and details its benefits. I then examine theBrazilian cultural model of the educated person and providesome background on Freirean, non-governmental literacyorganizations. Finally, I show how teachers attempted tocultivate friendship and sociability in the classroom and suggesthow this might influence the learning that occurs in theclassroom.

    Cultural Models of Work: a Theoreticaland Methodological Framework

    Analyses of work in Latin America, as in many otherregions with large impoverished populations, often rely on amodel that divides economic activity into formal and informalsectors. Debates then emerge over the solidity of the distinctionbetween firm and household, and whether the household fallsfirmly in the realm of the informal (see, e.g., Gudeman andRivera 1990; Mayer 2002). The formal-informal model iscertainly a reasonable approach to discussions of work inBrazil, where approximately 40% of the non-agricultural laborforce works in the informal economy (IBGE, PNAD data, 1990).Discussions of informal labor arrangements might be particu-larly appropriate for an analysis of the work done by adultliteracy teachers, since adult literacy instruction rather famouslyhas been and continues to be conducted outside the statesystem, through non-governmental organizations, churches,women's groups, labor unions, or other organizations. Using aninformal-formal model to analyze the work of adult literacyteachers might lead us to ask: how does the state benefit by

    Lesley Bartlett is an educational anthropologist and associateprofessor of education in the Department of International andTranscultural Education at Teachers College, ColumbiaUniversity. Her research interests include comparativeeducation, social inequality and schooling, social studies ofliteracy, learning, and cognition, and education reform inBrazil and the United States.

    outsourcing the work of education to civil society? Why dowomen accept these positions, when they would make twicethe amount of money doing the same work in the formaleducational system? Does work in the informal sector functionas a stepping-stone to work in the formal educational sector?Although these are important and valuable questions, they failto address two central features: the gendered nature of educa-tional labor in Brazil, and the cultural meaning of teachingliteracy there.

    To address those topics, which are central to the work ofliteracy education, my analysis relies on the concept of culturalmodels, or culturally shaped schema concerning the nature ofthings, events, or people. Cultural models shape expectationsfor how things work, and they guide situated meaning-makingin practice (Holland and Quinn 1987). Cultural modelsunderpin human thought and action. As Gudeman and Riverahave shown, by careful ethnographic attention to word usage,spatial arrangements, and other mundane details, the percep-tive fieldworker detects foundational models or metaphors(Gudeman and Rivera 1990). After discerning core models,ethnographers must listen and watch carefully for further datathat show these models in motion, i.e. exerting influence orundergoing change. In this paper, then, I examine the coremodels of education as enacted by literacy teachers.

    The cultural model approach has several benefits. First, itopens new avenues to consider the relation of work to struc-tures like race, class, and gender. In this case, the teachers'labor, as they define it, is emotional and thoroughly gendered.The cultural model approach can then be combined with moretraditional analytic modelse.g., the public/private divide,which has yielded great insight into the gendered division oflabor. Second, by emphasizing the importance of meaning, thecultural model approach ensures the place of cultural analysisin economic anthropology and reminds us to attend to bothemic and etic perspectives.

    Finally, the addition of cultural models to analyses of workpermits a more grounded explanation of agency and socialchange. Recent anthropological research regarding identitiesand agency suggests that the cultural artifacts attached to orinvoked by cultural models and figured worlds are central tohuman agency (Holland et al 1998). Cultural artifacts aresymbolic tools inscribed by the collective attribution ofmeaning (see Holland et al 1998, Chapters 2 and 3). An artifactcan assume a material aspect or an ideal or conceptual aspect..These objects are constructed as a part of and in relation torecognized activitiese.g., textbooks in schooling, name tagsin service work, or marked labels such as "scabs" or "foreman*in the factory. According to Holland et al., humans use culturalartifacts to modulate their own behavior, cognition, andemotion. From a Vygotskian perspective, through this processof "heuristic development," humans achieve some control overtheir own behavior and thus some degree of agency (seeHolland et al 1998). Attention to cultural models, cultural

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  • Anthropology of Work Review

    artifacts, and figured worlds helpfully links economic anthropologyto work being done in cognitive and psychological anthropologyin order to explain personal and social transformation.

    MethodsIn 1995 and 1999, I conducted 24 months of fieldwork

    among students, teachers, and administrators in four non-governmental and two public literacy programs in Rio deJaneiro and Joao Pessoa. Each night, I attended a literacy classof some type in the program, alternating between public andNGO programs. During the day, I engaged in a variety ofactivities: visited students' homes to investigate home literacypractices, followed students to work, traveled with students tothe market or the commercial area of town, and shadowedteachers at their day-time teaching jobs. In the early months, Iattended carefully to the lexicon surrounding education and theendeavor to teach or learn, as recommended by a culturalmodels approach. In this way, I noticed the frequency of talkabout "the educated person." In subsequent months, I began in-depth interviews with students and teachers to explore thelimits of this model and its connection to schooling.

    My discussion of the cultural model of the educated personrelies on that broad investigation. The second section reliesprimarily on research conducted in Joao Pessoa with three non-governmental literacy programs, specifically participantobservation of teacher training and classrooms, as well as 25interviews with literacy instructors and 30 interviews withliteracy students.

    The Cultural Model of the Educated Person in BrazilThe cultural model of "the educated person" is a core

    metaphor among Brazilians, one I encountered throughout myperiod of fieldwork. In Brazil, as in much of Latin America, theword "education" has a strong double meaning that compel-lingly shapes perceptions of schooling. Educagao signifies bothstudies or book knowledge and manners or comportment.Book knowledge straightforwardly references the kind ofcontent learned through formal schooling. "Manners," incontrast, indicates socially appropriate forms of behavior,including speech. "Manners" further divides into two types:sociability, or routines for interactions among relative socialpeers; and deference, or routines for interactions amongrelative social superiors.

    Sociability is my word for the informal, affable ways oftalking and acting deemed appropriate among social peers orintimates. Informants highly praised in others the ability andwillingness to connect socially and to spread good cheer.Sociability fostered warm, supportive social relations amongsocial peers or near-peers. In regard to sociability, informantsmost commonly mentioned the importance of learning tocommunicar-se, "communicate oneself," or explicar-se,"explain oneself." These linguistic moves involve learning toexpress oneself, empathize, and connect with peers. It entailsa specific form of emotional labor, in which one positionsoneself as open, inviting, and caring. Although "communicatingoneself includes all forms of body language and posture, italso relies extensively on linguistic articulacy.

    Importantly, people associate learning to communicateoneself with literacy and formal schooling. Rosa, a thirty-five-

    year-old literacy student who grew up in a large Northeasterncity and in 1999 was working as a janitor in the public school,told me:

    R: When I came to work here, no one believed that I didn'tknow how to read. They said I was a liar, because I knewhow to exp/icar-me, I knew how to converse. I said, 'Folks,do I have to condemn myself?' The truth is that I don't knowhow to read, and no one there believed me.L: What does knowing how to explain things have to do withknowing how to read?R: Because sometimes one doesn't know how to read but isa well-informed person, knows how to explain things, howto converse. Sometimes one knows how to read but is a totalimbecile, . . . knows how to read but is a stupid person.People who know how to read, a teacher for example, butdon't have a way of being [i.e. of getting along], distancesherself from others, creates inequality because she thinksherself [better]. Like, I'm a janitor, so-and-so isn't, and thatdifference remains. It's terrible! So when people say that onedoesn't read but knows how to explain oneself it's in thissense. (Rosa, 3 November 1999)

    Strikingly, Rosa conflated literacy (knowing how to read),knowledge (a well-informed person), the ability to conveygeneral knowledge (knowing how to explain things), andsociability (knowing how to converse). These spheres areculturally homologous. In other words, she clearly held acultural expectation that one who knows how to read also hasa strong ability to relate to others socially; the teachers (iconsof educated people) who fail to be sociable are the exceptionto the rule.

    In contrast, "manners" can also signify the appropriate wayof talking and acting around status superiors or people withwhom one has no established familiarity. In English we mightcall this deference. To "be educated," in this sense, is to acceptand assume one's place in a social hierarchy. As one publicschool teacher explained, "[Being] educated means you knowhow to arrive in an environment and comport yourself(Dolores, 24 May 1999). An unemployed literacy student andmother of two confirmed, "Education is knowing how toconverse with people, how to enter a place in the right way,how to eat right, all of this comes from education" (Dalva, 6August 1999). Educagao concerns visible manifestations orperformances of the self that are available for scrutiny, such asforms of address and conversation, manners of eating, andways of occupying space. Informants most commonly definededucation with the shorthand of "knowing how to enter andhow to leave." Being mannered is very much about usingcustomary etiquette to project an image of oneself as respect-able in an unfamiliar settinghence informants' emphasis on"arriving" and "entering" new social spaces. "Knowing how toenter and how to leave" entails following the rules of socialinstitutions and authority figures, which contributes to smoothvertical social relations.

    Hence, the Brazilian model of the educated person is quiteclear, though complex. It references both book knowledge andsocial skill. In terms of social relations, educacao as a culturalmodel recommends sociability for peer interactions and mannersor deference for interactions with one's social superiors.

    Volume XXII, Number 3

  • Anthropology of Work Review

    Literacy NGOs and their Radical PhilosophyNon-governmental literacy organizations with an avowed

    interest in power and politics emerged in the early 1960sferment of socialist activities in Brazil. Literacy was a require-ment to vote in the '60s and, indeed, it remained a prerequisiteuntil 1988. Since 40% of the population at that time wasilliterate, the Left saw literacy as an opportunity to democratizethe country and build a considerable populist political base.These organizations clustered in Brazil's poor and highlyilliterate Northeast, where they were frequently sponsored byradical Catholic university groups and attached to emergingpeasant labor unions (Lemos 1996).

    In 1962 a young Northeasterner named Paulo Freire roseto prominence for his radical humanist pedagogy developed towork with the poor of the region. His philosophy combinedChristian notions of radical equality before God and a Marxistcritique of unequal class relations. Freire excoriated the neo-colonial relationship between "oppressor" and "oppressed,"which alienated the oppressed from their true free selves. Heargued that the "banking model of education," in which theteacher owns knowledge and deposits it in the heads ofstudents, contributes to such oppression. Freire proposedteachers as the "revolutionary leadership" who should engagein "critical co-investiga[tion] in dialogue" with students (Freire1970: 68). He argued that this egalitarian pedagogy wouldoverturn class divisions and liberate both oppressed andoppressor. Freire and his colleagues set up classes to encourage"conscientization," or sociopolitical awareness, among studentsand teachers. In the early '60s, Freirean style literacy programsspread throughout the Northeast. In 1963, Freire was invited bythe populist national administration to implement his literacymethod nationally. This plan was aborted by the military coupin 1964.

    The military regime's crackdown on political activists^fragmented the literacy movement, scaring some away from'activism and sending others to the shelter of sympatheticCatholic communities, where they unobtrusively continued todo their work in isolation over a period of 20 years. With thegradual re-democratization of Brazilian society that began inthe mid-1980s, many literacy activists resumed their politicaleducation work. Yet the movement never recovered itsmomentum (Beisiegel 1982). Contemporary non-formal literacyefforts, although widespread, continue in mar...


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